5 Things you can learn from the boys of McFarland USA
Johnny Ortiz said that running was a hard sport. It was difficult for him to do because he kept getting shin splints.
First thing you learn is to stretch before and after running!
Hector Duran said we can learn alot about life while watching this movie. One thing they learned to appreciate is to not judge any book by its cover.
Second thing you learn is to not judge. That’s a great theme for this movie.
Sergio Avelar says that McFarland used to be this small town that no one had ever heard of. It was this cow pasture that you just passed through. Now people know about it. People are now proud to say they’re from McFarland. I’m proud to be from McFarland.
Third thing is to be proud of who you are and where you come from!
Ramiro Rodriguez (from McFarland just like Sergio) says that he used to go to the set and had to keep telling himself it’s not a dream. His little town used to be full of crime, gangsters and stuff. Now it’s in the national spotlight and it’s more of a safe community. He’s proud of his town.
Johnny Ortiz said that when he was young he called 411 and asked how he could become an actor. Now he is one and his newest show is American Crime. He broke the chain and is doing what he loves.
Michael Arguero’s first time at the beach happened on the set of McFarland. It was so cold that day and they all had to run into the surf. He said that when he went to the beach it was very emotional for him that first time.
Fourth thing you learn is to never stop dreaming because dreams do come true.
Carlos Pratt says that doing a movie is easier than doing TV. He says when you’re doing a movie you have a beginning, middle and an end. When doing TV you have all this dialogue and you have no idea where your character is going. So you kind of have to wing it. He enjoyed that aspect of movie making.
All the boys say they have formed great relationships and friendships on the movie. They text each other for advice or life. We love each other like brothers. That chemistry you see onscreen is the real deal in real life. We love each other whether the cameras are rolling or whether we’re done.
The fifth thing I want people to take away from this film is basically, you know, motivation, dedication, inspiration, and anything’s possible. These boys should know. They’re living the dream, the American dream!
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And some fun facts that maybe you didn’t know!
“McFarland, USA” is inspired by a 1987 true story, in which an unlikely band of inexperienced, under-equipped, young Latino runners with exceptional determination rise to become cross-country state champions under the leadership of their coach, Jim White. Over the years since then, the McFarland High School cross-country teams have won nine state championships and the small school is considered a powerhouse in the sport.
Coach Jim White is retired now, but if you go to McFarland, chances are you will see him out there on his bike, keeping up with the kids every evening with a lot of his original team running alongside as well. White retired in 2002 after teaching in McFarland schools for 40 years and coaching for 25 years.
A number of the original runners on the championship 1987 cross-country team became educators in the McFarland school district. The former teammates are not only working in their hometown, but also raising their families there and actively supporting the cross-country teams of today by coaching, helping out with the meets and practices and donating goods or money so the teams have what they need.
Three out of the seven young actors on the team in the movie are from the McFarland area—Sergio Avelar who plays Victor Puentes and Michael Aguero, cast as Damacio Diaz, are actual runners and Ramiro Rodriguez, as Danny Diaz, was a champion soccer player.
Ramiro Rodriguez had no intention of auditioning when he agreed to drive his cousin to the casting tryouts for “McFarland, USA.” He landed the role of Danny Diaz after being pestered repeatedly by executive producer Mario Iscovich to audition.
Sergio Avelar is a bona fide runner and a member of the McFarland Track Club. He has been running since 2001 and considers himself a “decent runner.” One of his coaches in middle school was actually Thomas Valles, the real-life person represented by the role that Carlos Pratts plays.
Actor Rafael Martinez, who is by nature soft-spoken and polite, admits that he cut school in order to audition for the movie. Needless to say, having won a role, he has no regrets.
Prior to the start of principal photography, director Niki Caro organized an informal gathering for the on-screen White clan that proved insightful for her and the actors. In pre-production she assembled the actors together—Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Morgan Saylor and Elsie Fisher—and had them play Monopoly as a family unit. The interesting exercise kick-started a family dynamic that lasted for the entire shoot.
Kevin Costner, who plays Coach White, was a great hit with the young actors. He quietly mentored them and offered advice if they wanted it but for the boys, listening to Costner’s stories and watching movies with him in his trailer was a highlight. They felt so comfortable with the famous movie star that they even nicknamed him “KC.”
Like the real McFarland team, all seven young actors had to train to become champion runners. Although some had more track and field experience than others, all of them took their drills very seriously. Mark Ellis, the coach hired to train them for the film, would have it no other way and the team evolved over time. But training them wasn’t as simple as merely putting shoes on their feet. Every morning at 8 a.m. the runners showed up for practice, which was literally running and more running to build up endurance.
In the script, the character Thomas Valles, played by Carlos Pratts, is a natural runner with prodigious talent. But the reverse was true for Pratts, who zealously prepared for the cross-country scenes and in the process, became a runner. In addition to drills with the film’s running coach, Mark Ellis, Pratts worked out with personal trainer Brian Nguyen. Nguyen famously got Mark Wahlberg into boxing shape for “The Fighter” and did likewise for Pratts.
The production took the cast and crew to some of the most beautiful spots in Southern and Central California, from Lake Castaic to Malibu to the Griffith Park Observatory, in addition to the fields and neighborhoods of Bakersfield and McFarland.
There were some unique cinematic opportunities in the filming of the movie, especially the embankments of almonds covered in protective plastic that served as training hills for the team. The expanse of these weird mounds across the landscape was visually arresting and certainly emblematic of McFarland, home to Blue Diamond Almonds.
Classic lowriders are featured in “McFarland, USA” in several scenes. Lowriders are custom cars fitted with hydraulic jacks that allow the chassis to be lowered almost all the way to the road. Lowriding was very big in California’s Central Valley in the mid-’80s with Bakersfield being one of the lowriding epicenters of the area. Lowriding is often stereotypically depicted as gangster-related in film but the reality is that these car clubs are essentially about family and community and the cars are lovingly treasured.
Director Niki Caro took particular interest in the “hero-car” lowrider vehicle—and not just in the service of the movie. The car actually belongs to Caro and she likes to drive the 1970s Chevrolet Caprice, which was customized to the movie’s specifications. The beautiful classic features an iconic chain steering wheel and a mural on the hood that is in the likeness of the owner’s girlfriend in the film, Lupe. The painting is in the style of the Virgin of Guadalupe, which is an ongoing visual theme in the movie.